As the 2019 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we're taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.
Woo boy, the Royals.
If you were busy soaking in the 100-loss White Sox in 2018, you missed out on all but 19 games of the 104-loss Royals, who kept the South Siders from finishing in the AL Central's basement. At this point, they're almost unrecognizable from the team that won the World Series just four years ago, with no Hosmers or Cains or Moustakii to be found. Even Salvador Perez had a horrible year from an on-base standpoint last season (.274), and he'll miss all of the 2019 campaign while recovering from Tommy John surgery. The only familiar face from those Royals teams of yore is Alex Gordon, who despite being one of the better and more important players in franchise history has slashed just .225/.310/.355 over the last three seasons. But the back-to-back Gold Gloves, the fifth and sixth of his career, are nice.
It seems hope is in short supply, with the Royals already embarking on another rebuild not long after the last one yielded back-to-back AL pennants. It's not exactly the worst-case scenario for a rebuilding team like the White Sox — the Royals did win the World Series, after all — but it begs the question of how much success is needed to justify a complete teardown. In other words, if the White Sox are in the same spot they're in now in another, let's say, six years but they won a World Series, how will fans feel about that? I'm guessing the championship will make just about anything go down smooth.
But the Crowns are now further behind in their current rebuilding effort than the White Sox ever were during this process, which speaks to how much talent Rick Hahn was able to accumulate in a relatively short period of time. The Royals didn't have the Chris Sales and Jose Quintanas to deal away for big-time prospect packages. They have just one top-100 prospect, Brady Singer, last summer's first-round pick. But they should be able to add another name to that list (and likely to the top of it) this summer, when they have the No. 2 pick in the draft, one spot ahead of the White Sox.
As for how they look for 2019, it ain't pretty. Perez's injury takes out one of their two good position players. The other, Whit Merrifield, got a contract extension this winter and is under team control for at least four more seasons and possibly a fifth. It kind of looked like he would be good trade bait this offseason, but the Royals went the other way. But that decision — attaching four or five years of team control — could make Merrifield an even more attractive trade candidate down the road, perhaps as early as this summer's deadline. Merrifield is already 30, but he's been very good in recent seasons, leading baseball with 192 hits and 45 stolen bases last season. He finished in the top 20 in AL MVP voting last season thanks to those numbers and a .304/.367/.438 slash line and 43 doubles.
But past Merrifield, there isn't much to be excited about. Gordon and his .355 slugging percentage since 2016 sit in the No. 3 spot in the batting order, and it's former Cubs prospect Jorge Soler behind him. Soler played in just 61 games last season and hit nine homers. Hunter Dozier, Brian Goodwin and Adalberto Mondesi are also players who play for the Royals. As for new additions, the Crowns added multiple players who can run fast and do very little else in Billy Hamilton (130 strikeouts for the second straight season) and Terrance Gore (one career hit in 63 career games).
Well, if that lineup doesn't have you shaking in your boots, there's seemingly even less of a threat coming from the pitching staff. Danny Duffy and his very meh 4.09 career ERA against the White Sox still sit at the top of the Kansas City rotation, but his 2019 debut could be delayed while he spends a little time getting back to full health. So it'll be Brad Keller on Opening Day. Keller split time between the rotation and the bullpen last season, turning in a very good season. But know that he was better as a reliever (2.01 ERA) than as a starter (3.28 ERA, still good). Jakob Junis' 32 home runs allowed surprisingly weren't the most in the American League, nor in the AL Central. Dylan Bundy gave up 41 of them and James Shields gave up 34 to claim those two designations. Ian Kennedy's 4.66 ERA in 2018 was much better than his 5.38 ERA in 2017 but not as good as his 3.68 ERA in 2016. What a tenure he's had in KCMO. Brad Boxberger seemed like a good addition to the bullpen, and he has saved a combined 73 games in the two previous seasons he's worked as a closer, but he's got an ERA north of 4.00 over the last four years.
So yeah. The Royals. The good news for the White Sox is that they'll get to play this team 19 times in 2019 — even if they no longer employ Crown Killer extraordinaire Matt Davidson — and along with the rebuilding Detroit Tigers and not super threatening Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians higher up the division's totem pole, the opportunities for a still-growing team to gather some victories won't exactly be scarce.
2018 record: 58-104, fifth place in AL Central
Offseason additions: Brad Boxberger, Martin Maldonado, Billy Hamilton, Terrance Gore, Chris Owings, Jake Diekman
Offseason departures: Alcides Escobar, Jason Hammel
X-factor: Adalberto Mondesi didn't exactly blow the doors off Major League Baseball last season, but he had a nice second half. Extrapolate those post All-Star break numbers to a full 162 games, and you get a .286/.318/.517 slash line with 33 home runs. Not bad considering the guy he'll be replacing as the full-time shortstop, Alcides Escobar, had just 36 home runs in his eight years as a Royal.
1. Adalberto Mondesi, SS
2. Whit Merrifield, 2B
3. Alex Gordon, LF
4. Jorge Soler, DH
5. Ryan O'Hearn, 1B
6. Hunter Dozier, 3B
7. Brian Goodwin, RF
8. Martin Maldonado, C
9. Billy Hamilton, CF
1. Danny Duffy (if and when healthy)
2. Brad Keller
3. Ian Kennedy
4. Jakob Junis
5. Jorge Lopez
Prediction: Fifth place in AL Central, no playoffs
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